Embrace the spirit of Parkland

David Hogg (left) and Emma Gonzalez (front, second from right) at a rally in Fort Lauderdale on February 17, 2018. Photo: Barry Stock, via flickr
By Jon Friedman

Last May, I went to a rooftop party on West 72nd Street, prepared to skewer my fellow pretentious New York City literati. Instead, I quickly forgot about the poseurs and came away awestruck at two of the unexpected guests: David Hogg and Cameron Kasky. They stand for as much today as they did on that Tuesday evening.

Cameron and David, survivors of the massacre one year ago at the Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla., had come to New York to rally support for their gun-control mission. As I wrote last year in this space, they — heroic and stoic — stood apart from the throng of self-important New Yorkers, needing only the company of one another to confirm their importance. They reminded me of what the Beatles encountered in the film A Hard Day’s Night, as they, too, suddenly found themselves — ordinary kids not so long ago — thrust into an adult-created media freak show that had forced them to grow up overnight.

They could have been two of my college students, judging by their youthfulness — and their new burden was a fate I wouldn’t wish on any undergraduate.

What may be the most impressive aspect of Cameron, David and their cohorts (especially Emma “We Call B.S.” Gonzalez) was how they used their new status as Media Flavors of the Month to promote the cause of gun control. They looked like any innocent teenagers but they wanted no part of the fame game for their own selves.

I wish their particular form of activism on every young person, especially the Stony Brook and Hunter College students that I teach the virtues of journalism and news literacy. I have no illusions, though.

Like most teenagers, they don’t want to be taught anything. They want to discover the world on their own terms, without some old person exhorting them to stop saying “like” four or five times in a typical sentence. And good for them. I was once the same way. So, come to think of it, were you.

The Parkland students reminded me that is nothing short of thrilling to see a spark of activism in its early stages. But I had seen it building for a few years. A lot of my students sure felt “the Bern” in 2016, as the emergence of straight-talking Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders galvanized them in an otherwise dreary and ultimately infuriating election year.

And what now, a year after Parkland (which, as The New York Times pointed out on Feb. 13, has become a form of shorthand for school shootings)?

Is activism going to continue during what looms as a more hopeful election cycle than what young Americans had to sit through in 2016?

Each day, it seems, another interesting and attractive new Democratic candidate for the White House steps forward.

It’ll be fascinating to see which politician can excite this young generation. Amy Klobuchar’s form of “Minnesota Nice,” reminding me of the practical, no-nonsense Marge Gunderson from the movie “Fargo?” Cory Booker? Kamala Harris? Kirsten Gillibrand? And what about Beto? How about two of the older answers, Bloomberg and Biden? Even, dare I say it, Howard Schultz? (Well, full disclosure: I am typing this piece in one of his Starbucks shops so I should not be snarky).

The presidential candidates all say the right things, of course. They want to project enough toughness and fiscal competence to sway the adults, who are most likely to vote in an election.

But if they can’t embrace the spirit of David, Cameron, Emma and the rest of the Parkland Generation, then I call B.S.